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Native American Heritage Month

During the month of November, we celebrate the contributions, cultures, and histories of our Native American populations. Native American Heritage Month focuses on the cultures of American Indians and Alaska Natives, groups indigenous to our country. Learning about these cultures allows the American public to understand how these tribal citizens have worked to overcome the unique challenges that they continue to face.

Native American Heritage Month

Quick Facts

  • Many American Indian tribes have more than one name because Europeans arriving in the Americas could not pronounce the tribal names, so gave them different ones. For instance, the Muscogee Nation were known for hundreds of years as Creek Indians because of the many waterways that flowed through their land (present-day Georgia and Alabama).
  • Man-made mounds can be found throughout the U.S. It was earlier believed that the Aztec and Maya civilizations had moved farther north than originally presumed. However, 20th century archeologists confirmed that the indigenous people of the regions had actually constructed these mounds. Houses and temples had been built on these mounds at one time, and they were also used for burial chambers. Monk's Mound in Illinois covers sixteen acres and is the largest pre-Columbian earthwork in North America.  It's base is larger than the Great Pyramid at Giza!
  • Alaska Natives are typically referred to as "Eskimo," but this term is offensive to people in this region, since there are actually 11 different cultural groups in Alaska. If the group is unknown to the speaker, "Alaska Native" is the preferred term.
  • Jay Silverheels (Mohawk) was the most famous of several actors who played Tonto in the The Lone Ranger. He was born Harry Smith on the Six Nations Indian Reserve in Ontario, Canada. In later years, he spoke for Indian rights, was opposed to having non-Indians playing Indian roles, and became a respected teacher within the Indian acting community.
  • There is a myth that the Pilgrims hosted the first Thanksgiving feast for the Native people. In reality, the Wampanoag contributed their agricultural knowledge to the settlers, who would not have survived their first winter without that assistance. Both groups contributed to the three-day feast.

Source: Smithsonian Institution. (2007).  Do All Indians Live in Tipis? Questions & Answers from the National Museum of the American Indian. New York, NY: HarperCollins.